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Atmosphere at the Departure from Southampton

The long-awaited departure day finally arrives on Sunday, 10th September. The morning dawns foggy and pleasantly cool. Excitement becomes real as the crew gathers on the boat at seven. Around eight, there’s a moment that previously brought smiles, but now everyone turns serious: mobile phones are shut down as the race organization collects them into a sealed bag. The next time they’ll use social media will be in Cape Town, about a month from now!

The Ocean Globe Race 2023 is a retro sailing competition around the world, in the style of the 1973 Whitbread Round The World Race. The participating boats were designed before 1988, and many racers are participating for the second time. All modern devices are forbidden. The highest technology on the Spirit of Helsinki includes a weather fax machine bought from Golden Globe Race winner Kirsten Neuschäfer and the crew’s personal Walkman cassette players. Cassettes have been eagerly recorded and dug out from old stashes. It remains to be seen if the retro feel is still amusing on the next leg.

The days leading up to the departure have been exceptionally hot. At the water’s edge of Southampton’s Ocean Village, there hasn’t been much wind, and the temperature has risen above thirty degrees Celsius. The crew has sweated over last-minute installations and purchases. The boat, a 65-foot Swan called Spirit of Helsinki, has been carefully packed. All items have been cleaned, catalogued, and tightly packed. Even in such a large boat, storage space shrinks when the supplies and equipment for the 13-member crew are taken aboard. At the same time, personal lives have been put on hold for at least the next month. For some of the crew, the race means an eight-month sabbatical from everything familiar. When the race organization asked what they would miss the most at sea, everyone said family and friends. However, wine and a comfy bed were a close second. Life at sea is wonderful, but there will be many moments of longing during the competition.

Finally, it’s time to cast off the ropes. Just before Spirit of Helsinki’s departure time at 10:40, another Finnish boat, Galiana WithSecure, captained by Tapio Lehtinen, zooms by. The crew on its deck is dressed in full club jackets while cannon blasts echo. Spirit of Helsinki departs with a slightly lower profile, with those staying on the dock cheering them on. The moment is emotional. This has been awaited and aimed for for years. There are bursts of laughter and tears in turns. Farewell! See you in Cape Town, Auckland, Punta del Este, or maybe back here in Southampton in April 2024!

The atmosphere at the departure area in Solent is high. Morning drizzle and fog give way. The only dampening factor is the embarrassingly light wind. There’s a fear that at the start, the boats will move backward instead of forward. Yet, the boats do move at a decent pace. From in front of the Cowes Royal Ocean Racing Club, a ten-minute warning is fired, then a five-minute, and finally, the anticipated start shot. The Ocean Globe Race 2023 is underway! Fog horns sound, flags flutter, and spectator boats cheer. Spirit of Helsinki gets a dream start, being the second-best boat 42 seconds after the start. The journey goes slowly but surely towards the Needles Point on the Isle of Wight’s western corner. About half an hour after the start, a counter-current stops most of the fleet. Spirit of Helsinki takes the lead, finds the wind, and reaches the Needles first.

The first night is hard. Light winds and strong currents challenge everyone. Sometimes some boats stop, some move at a reasonable speed. At times, they drift backward with the current. Sails are frequently changed. The sails, stitched from thick dacron, weigh tens of kilograms. The next day, as they finally break free from the mainland’s quirks, the fleet splits into three groups. Spirit of Helsinki is in the lead group of four boats, starting to distance themselves from the others. The journey to Cape Town is about 6700 nautical miles in total. The first storm they encounter may reshuffle the entire pack, and the Doldrum belt’s calm at the equator might reset the entire race. Currently, however, things look great. Spirit of Helsinki leads its class overwhelmingly. Marie Tabarly’s Pen Duick VI currently leads the entire race, but the speed differences at the front are minuscule, and the situation changes every few hours. The top four also includes Maiden, campaigning for girls’ education with Heather Thomas as its captain, and Translated 9 captained by Vittorio Malingri. The next group is almost 100 nautical miles away, but the situation can change at any moment. The most thrilling show over the next month will probably come from the Ocean Globe Race channels!

Six days after the start, the first satellite call from Spirit of Helsinki is received. Don McIntyre interviews captain Jussi Paavoseppä. The mood on the boat is at its peak, with Spirit of Helsinki sailing better day by day and competitors occasionally in sight. This makes the competition even more fun. Jussi talks about the first night, which was really tough for everyone. The crew went through all the sails, as the challenging conditions changed rapidly. After Needles, the boat was stagnant for a few hours. Now the speed has stabilized around 10 knots, the weather is great, the mood is high, and everyone on the boat is well. Jussi’s greetings from the Atlantic: “The boat is doing well. We’re sailing west of Madeira with smiles on our faces. Greetings to everyone!”

Blog is written by Johanna Bruun.

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